Why Wodaj? Bridging the gap...
Oftentimes, transracial adoptees don't have adequate racial mirrors and live in neighborhoods that are not diverse. They may look different from family members and may be the only child of color in their school, church, or sports team.
Happy and well-adjusted adoptees may still feel isolated by a lack of connection with people who look like them. As they mature, adoptees may long for diverse friendship and mentors but not know where to turn for support in their community. Parents often receive adequate adoption support when they first become adoptive parents but are left to their own devices when it comes to identifying mentors, role models, and cultural mirrors to support the ongoing needs of their transracially adopted children.
Left unresolved, this gap may create problems as adoptees navigate their world from a different vantage point than their families ---friendships, racism, physical (hair, skin), careers---become challenges they might be tackling alone. In a nutshell, everyone wants to feel like they belong and desires a support system to get through the rough spots. Wodaj was founded with the mission of filling this gap and proactively creating a support system that makes ethnic connections a joyful and helpful part of the adoptee's life.
As an international adoptee, it was difficult for me to articulate what was missing during my youth in regards to role models and mentors. I had positive relationships with my parents, was well-liked by friends and teachers, and enjoyed extracurricular activities – on the outside, I appeared to be a “well-adjusted adoptee,” but on the inside, I still felt incomplete. It wasn’t until adulthood, when I became an adoptive parent and mental health professional, that I identified the crucial missing piece: I never had the opportunity to develop relationships with people of my ethnicity or birth culture. I had not learned what it meant or felt like to be connected with people who looked like me and shared my cultural ancestry. After beginning to build personal relationships with people of my race and my son’s race, and working with hundreds of transracial adoptees, I now understand that having close relationships with people who share lived experiences is a key part of positive racial identity development, and without those racial and cultural mirrors, an adoptee is inevitably going to feel incomplete. Role models and mentors of the same race and culture are a necessary piece when it comes to helping an international adoptee feel whole.-Dr. Chaitra Wirta-Leiker
CoFounders, Dana Guilfoyle and Christian Minner, are adoptive parents in the Denver area. Recognizing that Denver is the third largest city for Ethiopian immigrants, they sought to unite the adoption community with the local Ethiopian community to address this important need. Partnering with the Evangelical Church of Denver, the Ethiopian Kids Club was born in 2017 to offer social activities for adoptees. Mentor matching, the family exchange, cultural programs, and the formation of Wodaj, an official nonprofit, were added in 2018.